Visionary sees art gallery on downtown walls
(November 14, 2005) ? Kenichiro Sato walks downtown and sees a perfect setting for a public gallery of photographs.
The walls of his museum would be the hard facades of city buildings ? his audience, anyone strolling down a city sidewalk, riding in a car or waiting for a bus. The photographs would be the size of billboards and compact cars. Admission would be free.
"I don't see lots of exciting stuff downtown," said Sato, a 26-year-old student from Japan. "I want to make it a more vital city."
Turning downtown into an outdoor museum is an ambitious project, but Sato and a small group of volunteers are trying to create the Rochester Outdoor Museum of Art, or ROMA, nonetheless.
The plan is based on a project Sato completed for a public policy class at Monroe Community College. The idea is to hang 50 to 100 photographs ranging in size from 50-by-100-feet on the sides of buildings to several hundred smaller photographs of 8-by-10-feet in public places across the city.
The plan also includes an international photo contest, the winner of which would earn the right to display work at the museum along with photographers from Rochester and across the United States.
No advertising would be accepted, said Sato. But the entire project would serve as a tourism billboard for Rochester, he said.
"The thing about this project is that art is usually inside a building and doesn't change the environment of the town," he said. "This is new. (As far as we know) this would be the first museum like this in the world."
Sato has come a great distance to offer a hand to Rochester. He is from Sendai, Japan, and moved to the United States two years ago on a scholarship from the Nakamoto Museum of Contemporary Art. He worked for the museum for three years before coming to the United States to study two years ago.
Sato moved to Rochester a year ago after a year in New York City. He lives downtown and goes to school downtown. He does not have a car, so he spends much of his time downtown.
"This is the image center of the world, and there is nothing downtown to show that besides the Kodak building," Sato said.
As with most ideas for sparking life downtown, this one requires money, cooperation and a bit of good luck.
The cost of making the school project a reality is about $1 million. Sato and his group estimate that the cost of printing one 50-by-100-foot photograph would cost about $22,500. The photographs would be printed on vinyl sheets, which Sato said would be resistant to the elements.
Other costs would include lighting, installation, promotion and management.
Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of Rochester Downtown Development Corp., has seen many public art projects proposed for downtown and what most lack is funding. But public art, she said, will be an important ingredient in revitalizing downtown.
People are drawn to cities such as Barcelona, Spain, because of public works of art. Zimmer-Meyer said art can give a city an edge of interest, a connection to local culture and can just make people walking down the street feel good. "Art celebrates life and reminds us what is most important. If it is bold and edgy it can help to project ourselves out on to the streets. It would be a tremendous win for the community."
Sato and his team are hoping to create a nonprofit organization to help move the project forward and to raise money through corporate and private donations and grants. John Lam, a software engineer, is working with Sato on the project and helping him make contacts. He said they have met with a few city officials and local organizations such as the Rochester Downtown Development Corp.
"We have met so many people in a very short time and so far no one has had anything bad to say about it," said Lam. "Everyone is very enthusiastic."
Greg Marshall, vice president of marketing for the Greater Rochester Visitors Association Inc., said he was excited about the proposal when he first heard about it. He said it is the kind of project that could bring life and attention ? as well as tourists ? back to downtown. About 1.7 million people visit the area each year now, according to the visitors association.
Marshall has not yet met with Sato and his partners but is looking forward to doing so. He said creating a "buzz" about the proposal is the first step to moving it forward.
"I look out my window and see a dozen palettes," Marshall said. "You build buzz, and people start saying that this community can start getting back to a 'can-do' attitude."
But there are still many people who would have to be convinced of the project's potential for tourism, including building owners.
Sato said people have no farther to look for a success story than Central Park in New York City and "The Gates," an outdoor work of art by artists Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. The work featured 7,500 saffron-colored fabric gates that decorated the walkways of the park. It was up for 16 days in February and drew more than 1 million people and $254 million into the city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told CNN in March.
Companies have also used images to decorate their buildings on special occasions. Xerox Corp. wrapped three sides of its office building in Athens, Greece, last year with a mosaic of 27,000 employee photographs showing two children running through a park. It was placed on the building for the Summer Olympics in Athens.
Lam said there is little question people would travel to an outdoor exhibition in Rochester. Some of the millions of visitors to Niagara Falls each year might want to take the 90-minute drive to visit the museum. It could also provide a reason for ferry travelers from Toronto to spend the night in Rochester, he said.
"This is unique and it hasn't been done anywhere else in the world. ... Even if we got just 1 percent of those visitors (from Niagara Falls) to come here ? people who would have not regularly come here ? that would be a half-million a year."
Marshall also hailed the proposal as an example of a young person trying to bring change to downtown. "When we squelch the ideas of young people, that's when they take off for Boston," he said. "They want to live in a can-do community."